By John Hadder: GBRW and allies toured the Cortez Joint Venture complex in June 2017 to get a first hand look at the site of the proposed expansion of what is already one of the largest gold mining complexes in the world, Cortez Joint Venture, in Eureka and Lander Counties south of Crescent Valley. Under this proposal, detailed in the Plan of Operations submitted to the BLM, it will become larger by thousands of acres.
Our readers and members will recall that GBRW has been working with the Western Shoshone in trying to protect the spiritual/cultural area of and around Mt. Tenabo, already devastated by this mining complex. GBRW and the Western Shoshone filed suit in 2004 protesting exploration activities in Horse Canyon on the northeast side of Mt. Tenabo, and again in 2008 against the Cortez Hills Mine, which is on the south pediment area of the mountain.
Of most concern to GBRW in the current expansion plans is the increase in groundwater pumping that will be necessary for Barrick to deepen existing pits and the underground mines. The expansion involves expanding the open pits collectively by about 20,000 acres and deepening all of the pits. In addition to the expansion of all these mining areas, Barrick has also planned a new underground mine, Goldrush Project, that will begin in Horse Canyon on the north side of Mt Tenabo.
Barrick pumped about 34,400 acre-feet of water per year (AFY) in 2016, and this could increase to a maximum of about 55,700 AFY. Barrick earlier this year sought a ruling from the Nevada Division of Water Resources to transfer pumped water from the Crescent Valley Water Basin to the Grass Valley Water Basin. The transfer was necessary to restore water drawn from Grass Valley by pumping in Crescent Valley.
Of the water pumped, approximately 9 percent is consumptively used, i.e., removed permanently from the water basins. The remainder of the water is “returned” to the basin of origin, largely by using infiltration basins. Construction and operation of infiltration basins has improved over the years; however, it is not clear how much of this water is restored to the deep aquifer of origin. The long-term effects of this kind of massive dewatering is unknown, but there are predictions of losses of seeps and springs including Shoshone Wells, that are of cultural value to the Western Shoshone.
In our comments to the BLM we discussed the effect of all the mining on the cultural aspects of area; we would like to see detailed accounting for the cumulative effects on cultural values of the area. We stated that the BLM needs to solicit Western Shoshone input to fully investigate cultural losses. Shawn Collins a Western Shoshone and key witness in our legal case told GBRW that he will not return to Mt Tenabo; the mine has eliminated this sacred site for his spiritual practice.
The Cortez Joint Venture, Barrick’s premiere gold mine complex, has produced a total of 18.6 million ounces of gold since 1988; Barrick has estimated that there are at least 10.2 million ounces of proven and probable gold remaining. Given the richness of the gold deposit in and around Mt. Tenabo, it is clear why Barrick has gone to considerable effort since our lawsuits to neutralize Western Shoshone opposition to mining operations around Mt. Tenabo and elsewhere in Nevada. Ultimately, Barrick operations will virtually surround the mountain, and only the top of it is recognized by U.S. courts as a protected sacred site. Barrick has stated that it will never attempt to mine the mountain. In 50 to 80 years that is all that may remain of the Shoshone cultural area – the top of Mt. Tenabo.